Fear. It keeps us trapped in unhealthy behaviors, relationships, dead end jobs and sad little lives.
It is our number one enemy when it comes to self fulfillment and yet we often honor it by bowing to its demands. How do we overcome fear and open ourselves up to the lives we want?
I do it in three steps.
1. Diagnose the fear.
When we are afraid of something, but refuse to examine it, our apprehension becomes exponentially worse. We become afraid of the fear. When we dare to name the thing that looms in our consciousness, we automatically drain it of some of its power.
I like to sit in a room with the door locked for about five minutes and just create space to name my fear. Sometimes I write it down, sometimes I don’t. It’s usually pretty uncomplicated.
I am afraid of failure.
I am afraid I won’t be loved.
I am afraid of being broke.
I am afraid of looking foolish.
Once named, the fear doesn’t disappear, but it stops floating around and infecting everything.
Okay, I think to myself, what’s the worst thing that can happen?
I’ll fail (but there is no failure, there is only our response to perceived failure), I won’t be loved (but I am loved—at the very least, I can love myself), I’ll be broke (maybe, but as long as I have a packet of Ramen and a roof—no matter how rickety—I’ll probably be okay) and I’ll look foolish (yeah, but no one ever died of looking silly).
Now that I have my fear down to a reasonable size and shape, I’m ready for phase two.
2. Put one foot in front of the other.
The only way to get to the top of a mountain is to climb one measly, insignificant seeming step at a time. Unless you have a helicopter. But then you’ll miss all the neat stuff along the way.
I always resolve to move toward a fear inducing goal in tiny increments. I want to write a book? I write a page a day for 300 days. I want to eat more healthfully? I go to the farmers market and focus on my next meal. It doesn’t matter what form the tiny increments take, as long as we make them consistently, refusing to let fear talk us out of it.
When fear does get the upper hand (and it will), and suddenly we’ve gone a week without writing anything and our shirts are covered in potato chip crumbs, it’s time to go back to step one.
This brings me to an important point. Overcoming fear is never a linear process, but one in which we repeatedly trip, fall, dust ourselves off and get back to the program. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but we musn’t languish and lose all our forward momentum.
3. Detach from the outcome.
Easier said than done—especially when the outcome is, say, a book, and detaching from it seems to make a scary thing even scarier.
How can I write one page of a book if I don’t think about the whole book? How can I eat healthfully if I don’t think about every single calorie and meal I plan to eat? How can I climb a mountain if I don’t obsess about getting to the top?
Once we envision a general goal, whatever it may be, we need to set it and forget it. Though we can revisit our goal from time to time, the majority of our efforts should be focused on taking the tiny incremental steps to get there.
If we spend every moment climbing our mountain gazing upwards into the clouds, we won’t experience the beauty of the dry earth beneath our feet, the lizard that just scittered by, the strange purple flower peeking out from a dark fissure in the stone or the way the air smells of iron and and the color blue.
Even if we don’t reach our goal—the top—our journey will have been rich and rewarding in ways we can’t know until we take it.
We all feel fear and have, at one point or another, been paralyzed by it. But remaining stuck there is a choice.
Naming our fears, moving through them slowly and with intention, and not worrying so much about where we are going but how we are going there, is a reliable, manageable method to live our lives to the very fullest.